- - Sunday, December 12, 2010

HUAC’s fruit

“[Elia Kazan‘s] movies are a treasure trove of defining cultural moments, among them a revolution in screen acting (Brando); the finest filmed version of an American drama (Tennessee Williams’ ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’ whose Broadway premiere Kazan also directed); an iconic representation of teen-age rebellion (‘East of Eden’); and the first compelling onscreen account of the immigrant’s journey to the New World (‘America, America’).

“Taken together, the movies, which also include ‘On the Waterfront,’ ‘A Face in the Crowd,’ ‘Wild River,’ and ‘Splendor in the Grass,’ form a kind of flowchart of the mid-century’s influence on the psyche of its citizens. Kazan introduced into cinema the faces and the vibrancy of the unseen American mongrel gallery: Mexican peasants, Italian longshoremen, Appalachian yeomen, black sharecroppers, Anatolian immigrants.

“His stories were a celluloid witness to his ‘lover’s quarrel with his country’ — its passion for distraction, its punishing Puritanism, its racism, its bewildered pursuit of happiness. … Perhaps the most startling news of all is that little of this enormous contribution to culture would have existed if Kazan had not testified, in 1952, as a friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee.”

John Lahr, writing on “Method Man” in the Dec. 13 issue of the New Yorker

New stutterer

“‘The King’s Speech,’ a much-ballyhooed movie about King George VI’s struggle to overcome his stammer in time to deliver, by radio, a speech preparing London for war, has arrived from England with a mandate to correct many of the standard depictions, while still falling back on psychological shorthand to explain the king’s disability: His parents were overbearing, and he was forced as a child to write with his nondominant hand. (Both are schoolyard myths for how a stutter takes its initial hold.)

“The movie, as formulaic in its way as ‘Rocky’ or ‘Rudy,’ is buoyed by its good acting and by its entirely new portrayal of a grown man who stutters: Colin Firth’s King George gulps and strangles himself trying to get the words out, yet retains his dignity and invites our empathy. For the 1 percent of the population that stutters, and has withstood the additional ignominy of watching stuttering characters in Hollywood films, the movie is a rare catharsis. A likable king struggling to speak is significantly more attractive than the violent criminals (‘Taking of Pelham 1-2-3,’ ‘Primal Fear’), or abused, suicidal inpatients (‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’) of yore.”

Barry Harbaugh, writing on “A History of Stuttering in the Movies” on Dec. 9 at Slate

Hate crime

“So let’s say you’re at some restaurant, enjoying your chai tea and veggie burger, reading a worn out copy of ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves,’ and in a booth nearby you hear a father and son arguing. The conversation gets nasty, as the pop says, ‘There are solutions to this! No son of mine is going to be gay!’ So what do you do? Well, an ABC show is named exactly that — and the father and son are actually actors fabricating this scene, waiting to see if someone like you will intervene.

“It’s a morality experiment: the man berates his son for being gay — and if you don’t do anything — well, you’re just an awful, cowardly homophobe. Later, the performers question bystanders as to why they didn’t interrupt, and of course are judged for lack of involvement. … All the network is doing is staging gay bullying stuff because these days, it makes for easy, manufactured outrage. I doubt they’d create a scenario where a tea partier is called a Nazi, or a police officer is labeled a fascist.”

Greg Gutfeld, writing on “New ABC Show Stages Phony Gay Bullying to Foment Outrage,” on Dec 12 at the Andrew Breitbart site Big Hollywood